How to Make a Clay Totem Pole

Written by erika marie
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How to Make a Clay Totem Pole
Sculpt a clay totem pole with your own symbolism. (Jupiterimages/ Images)

Totem poles are a tradition of Native Americans of the Pacific Northwest, Canada and Alaska. The carvings represent a family's heritage, accomplishments and traditions through many generations. Native people created totem poles to honour a deceased elder or upon achieving an important life goal. Commemorate your family's heritage and traditions by making a family totem pole from clay using personal symbolic images. Make one that utilises traditional Native American symbols like ravens, bears and fish.

Skill level:
Moderately Easy

Things you need

  • Heavy gauge wire
  • Sculpting clay
  • Clay carving tools
  • Oven
  • Scissors
  • Acrylic craft paints
  • Craft paintbrushes
  • Clear acrylic spray

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  1. 1

    Fold a 12-inch piece of wire in half, and then form the bent end into a one-inch diameter circle. Bend the two ends of the wire upright to form the armature. This will be the base of the totem pole and the armature will support the clay.

  2. 2

    Knead a small ball of clay in your hands until it is soft and pliable.

  3. 3

    Form a cylinder with the clay that is 1-inch round and about 1.5-inches high.

  4. 4

    Carve your designs into the cylinder of clay using clay-carving tools. Use symbolic animals or designs and add details. This is your first family representation and represents the earliest generation or event.

  5. 5

    Slide the cylinder of clay onto the wire form and push gently to the bottom of the form.

  6. 6

    Create additional clay cylinders for the totem pole, adding one for each generation or event and carving appropriate designs and details.

  7. 7

    Bake the totem pole in a 275 degree Fahrenheit oven for 20 minutes or until the clay is hardened. Allow to cool before removing.

  8. 8

    Paint the totem with acrylic paints and small craft paintbrushes. Allow to dry for at least two hours.

  9. 9

    Spray a coat of clear acrylic finish over the entire totem pole and allow drying before handling.

Tips and warnings

  • Cut wings or other embellishments from foam sheets, if desired. Attach the wings or embellishments with a hot glue gun.
  • Spray the acrylic finish on the completed totem pole in a well-ventilated, outdoor area.
  • Use care when handling a hot glue gun.

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